A Life Dedicated to Academia

For the past few years Joanne Caruso Bentley '81 has served on Merrimack's College Leadership Council, and she recently joined the Board of Trustees. As Senior Director of Business Operations and Faculty Research Management Services at Yale University, Joanne leads an organization that supports faculty research by administering proposals and managing millions of dollars of sponsored awards. She attributes much of her leadership and negotiation skills to her early experiences at Merrimack College. 

First-Generation College Student
Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, Joanne and her three siblings all attended a Parochial grammar school and a Catholic high school. “When it came time for us to go to college, it wasn’t a question of if we would go, it was where,” said Joanne. “My father had wanted to go to college, but wasn’t able to because he had to work at his family’s car repair business. Both my parents were huge proponents of us getting a college education, and they sacrificed a great deal to make that happen.”

Joanne knew she wanted to go away to school—her parents required that for at least one year—but she didn’t want to go too far. Her guidance counselor had suggested Merrimack College. “There was just something about it that appealed to me,” she said. Joanne was the third child in her family to go to college. Her brother had gone to Boston College and didn’t even have housing the first year. “When my father pulled up to Merrimack, we were immediately surrounded by a group of orientation kids who told us that they would take care of carrying everything into the dorm. The welcome we received that first day was just outstanding,” said Bentley. That same day she met one of “her nearest and dearest friends,” with whom she’s had a lifelong friendship. She also met a lot of other first-generation college students like her. 

Learning Life Skills on Campus
At Merrimack Joanne got involved pretty quickly with class council and student government. “I felt like I was part of the community from day one,” she said. “My extra-curricular activities taught me how to negotiate and interact with administrators while the fabric of the Merrimack community reinforced my family’s principals.” As a freshman Joanne majored in biology, but she became a business major the following year. “A lot of kids go to school and change their majors, and there are so many options to choose from at Merrimack,” as well as extra-curricular activities. As a senior Joanne and two of her classmates started a women’s club softball team, which eventually became a varsity sport.

As a graduate Joanne started donating annually to the College as soon as she could. “There were no years I missed. I believe in supporting the place that allowed me to go from adolescence to adulthood and gave me so many opportunities. I’ve always felt committed to giving back. And being on every reunion committee has kept me connected to the school.” 

A Commitment to Student Success
After earning her MBA from the University of New Haven, Joanne worked in Higher Education for almost her entire career. She believes that retention rates are really important at colleges. “There’s always going to be a reason a kid transfers, but I believe that they shouldn’t be forced to transfer because they didn’t get the academic support they needed,” said Joanne. That’s why she chose to support Merrimack’s Academic Success Center. The programs it offers—such as time management skills, one-on-one tutoring, and strategies for minimizing test stress—helps students tackle challenges and achieve their personal best academically. 

Along the same lines, President Hopey established the College Leadership Council to provide current students with workshops and activities around building resumes and honing interview skills. Joanne served on the Council for a number of years before accepting a position on the Board of Trustees. “I’m really excited about starting on the Board,” added Joanne. “It’s a new chapter of my life. Things are looking so bright for the future of the college and I really look forward to continuing to give back.” 

A Vision for the Future
Over the years Joanne has watched Merrimack go through various phases. “What President Hopey has done is amazing,” she said. “The school is just exploding. And the growth and interdisciplinary programs are providing great opportunities for kids. My classmates and I all say that our degrees have appreciated in value since we attended Merrimack.” And Merrimack’s leaders agree that couldn’t be more true.


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